This interview was conducted over email with Tyler Kopp, a senior enrolled in the class of 2020 and majoring in Public Policy and Spanish, by Miranda Gershoni, a second-year undergraduate student working for the Duke Human Rights Center at the Franklin Humanities Institute.

Miranda Gershoni (MG): Why did you decide to pursue the human rights certificate?

Tyler Kopp (TK): I had an interest in studying human rights since I first heard the term in high school, but I had very little idea what human rights looked like in the “real world.” People tend to throw around the term “human rights” often, but I think that in a lot of cases, the term is used as a hyper-theoretical, often misinterpreted/misconstrued idea that can end up surmounting to empty wording. This certificate has provided me with a lot of ways to interpret, analyze, and critique human rights — from the international human rights documents we often laud at fancy conferences to the human rights violations of migrant families that I am researching right now as I write my senior thesis in public policy. 

MG: What makes this certificate unique from other programs at Duke?

TK: Human rights may be a term that’s thrown around loosely, but it’s a term that has a base in pretty much everything we see around us today. In that way, I think the material of this certificate stands out. I also think the opportunities offered to human rights students are incredible — research grants, DukeImmerse, a ton of course offerings each semester, and more.

MG: How has the multidisciplinary, experiential nature of the program affected your learning while in the certificate?

TK: It has completely shaped how I think about human rights. One thing that bothers me about a lot of human rights-focused spaces is that they can be very caught up in the theoretical and can have elitist and misconstrued conceptions of human rights realities today around the world. I’ve been able to build on opportunities through the certificate that has allowed me to put the more theoretical ideas of rights into practice in my work with various rights-based organizations and my work as a student on campus.

MG: How do you plan to use the information and experiences you’re gaining from the certificate?

TK: Well, right now they’re heavily influencing my thesis work on the transnational realities of forced family separation for Mexican-U.S. migrants. I don’t know exactly what I want to do once I graduate, but a longer-term plan is to get a law degree and work with an organization that provides legal services for migrants and LGBTQ+ people. I also want to work in policy advocacy spaces to change the systems that criminalize and exclude these groups.

MG: What has been the most impactful moment (lecture, activity, reading, professor, etc) you’ve gained from the program?

TK: This is kind of a cheat answer, because there’s so much wrapped into it, but the most impactful moment/period of time, etc. that I’ve gained through the program is the Rights and Identities in the Americas DukeImmerse I did as a sophomore. Through that semester, I’ve developed strong relationships with several professors whom I care for deeply; relationships, activist work experience, and my thesis research with incredible activist networks in Mexico City; and so much more.